Cannes 2011 Review: Justin Kurzel's Aussie Crime Drama 'Snowtown'
by Alex Billington
May 17, 2011
There are occasionally films I watch where I appreciate the filmmaking, but due to the subject matter, can't reasonably say I enjoyed (I would put Precious in that category, as I haven't ever wanted to watch it again). The Australian film I saw today from the Cannes Critics' Week (Semaine de la Critique), titled Snowtown, is another one of those films. It's a gritty, realistic Aussie crime drama in the same vein as David Michôd's Animal Kingdom (a fantastic film itself, highly recommended) but the story is so disturbing, unnerving, and just sick at times, that in no way could I say I enjoyed it. But it is actually a damn good film, that's for sure.
From first-time filmmaker Justin Kurzel, Snowtown is a dramatic cinematic interpretation of the real-life Snowtown murders that took place in the late 1990s in Southern Australia. You are more than welcome to read the Wikipedia about ring leader John Bunting (played by Daniel Henshall) and his heinous deeds, as that's exactly what this is about. However, it's those illicit activities that actually make the story intriguing. The film focuses on a mother living in poverty with her three sons and the disgusting pedophiles found all around their neighborhood. John is attempting to find and "remove" these people from the area by means that would make anyone's blood curl. So the message, if there even is one, is that violence begets violence.
It's hard to talk about this further without explaining a bit more of the plot. One of the older sons, Jamie (played by Lucas Pittaway - who almost looks like a 16-year-old Heath Ledger), is abused at one point, yet is still young and naive and doesn't speak up. He's coaxed, mostly by threats rather than persuasion, to join in John's attempts to "clean up" the neighborhood. It's a rather fascinating (at least I think) concept that his only escape from the demented pedophiles/abusers in the world is to take up arms and rid the world of these pedophiles. Would you rather be abused or kill those who attempt to abuse? It's an impossible moral question that doesn't have a right answer and that is exactly what they subtly address by telling this story.
In terms of the filmmaking, I was considerably impressed, and it's that side of this film that deserves the most acclaim. Not only does Kurzel use a repetitive drum beat-like score, accented with booming bass at times, that makes many scenes even more riveting than they already are, but his raw style also makes it a very intense film that a lot of audience members won't be able to handle. Those that can stomach this will discover an incredibly well-made feature with flawless performances all around. It may be hard to enjoy such unnerving and occasional disgusting content, but I can appreciate the film that Justin Kurzel created.
Following in the footsteps of Animal Kingdom, Snowtown is an excellent counterpart worth experiencing if you also enjoyed (you know what I mean) that Aussie crime drama. Just don't expect to leave the theater with a smile on your face or any happy thoughts. I have an admiration for films like this, despite knowing that others would say they shouldn't even be made, at the least because all of the performances and work put into this film is of an extraordinarily high quality. I still prefer Animal Kingdom a bit more, but Snowtown can definitely compare. If this interests you at all, give it a chance, you may be impressed. (Official website)
Alex's Cannes Rating: 8 out of 10